A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Monday, April 30, 2012

I Love the Rain The Most

For some odd reason, I really love rain.  I feel comforted by the pitter patter of raindrops on the roof or the flash of thunder and crash of lightening during a sudden thunderstorm.  As I analyze myself, I think it's one of the reasons I hated California when I first moved there - no rain!  The weather during summer seemed so boring.  Lately I've really come to love this song from Joe Purdy:

A lyric that I once heard from a song has always stuck with me, and since it is about rain I thought I would throw it in here.  The song is talking about God's power:

"He can move mountains of grief
and oceans of pain,
But sometimes He lets it rain."

Sometimes we wish our lives were free of pain, or sorrow, or grief and we can't understand why God would let this rain come down on us, or let the ocean waves crash over us, pushing us past endurance.  The song ends with this thought:

"There is no joy without the pain.
Sometimes He has to let it rain."

I just watched a documentary about some people who lost loved ones during 9/11.  It's called "Rebirth," and I thought that was an apt metaphor for what these particular people experienced - it was so painful to lose a loved one in such a terrible terrorist act, but each person found something about themselves, or learned something about their lost ones, that helped them get through it.  They found joy in life, even after a terrible tragedy.  We can do the same.

Joe Purdy sings "I love the rain the most...when it stops."  After a rainstorm the whole earth is cleaner and brighter.  When you see the sun peek through the clouds again it's a visible reminder of hope, and light after darkness.  The rainy days of sorrow wash away the grime and dirt of life and help us see what is truly important.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Romney, Show Mother Some Love

And by Mother, I mean Mother Earth.  Yesterday was Earth Day, in case you missed it.
Google's 2012 Earth Day Doodle

I'm a big fan of the earth, and I'm operating under the assumption that you are also a fan.  I mean, we all like to breathe, right?  Simply put, I think that we need to take good care of our Mother Earth.  It's a precious place, and from a religious point of view I believe it's a sacred trust.  We need to leave this earth clean and healthy for all the generations that will follow ours.

That is why I find it sad that Governor Romney literally has no environmental policy on his website.  He doesn't even have time to devote to policies that safeguard our Mother Earth!  The closest thing that he has is to an environmental policy is an energy policy.

So let me start by saying, I think it's extremely sad that Romney is only looking at the earth with a "what's in it for me?" mentality.  D&C 59:18 states that one of the primary purposes for which God created the earth is "...to please the eye and gladden the heart..."  In other words, earth is not just here for us to exploit and pillage - we should be in the business of conserving and caring for Mother Earth, and keeping it beautiful.

So, because he lacks an environmental policy, let's examine Romney's energy policy.  It has three main prongs.

Significant Regulatory Reform
Romney wants to streamline energy regulations.  I actually have no problem with this.  Too often projects that will create jobs and be good for our country are hampered by regulations.  I think this is a good and smart thing to do, with the caveat that we don't use this as excuse to weaken environmental regulations.  These rules are there to prevent market forces from doing something that may make money in the short term, but in the long term is bad for the earth.  Too often, "regulatory reform" is used as code for "no regulations."  I think we need sensible regulations, so I'm with Romney on this, I would just like to see more specifics.

Increasing Production
This part of the plan is all about increasing production of gas and oil.  Again, this is emphasizing only the "me" in environment.  And, as constant online ads have been reminding me, under President Obama we have increased oil and gas production every year.  I have two problems with Romney's policy (which, to be fair, isn't laid out in much detail, so maybe he has plans to mitigate the negatives here).
#1: Romney's website states that he would "open America's energy reserves for development."  To me, this means opening up ecologically sensitive areas to drilling, which would harm wildlife, landscapes, and leave behind chemicals for generations.  I believe that we have a duty to protect God's creations, even if that means we pay higher prices for gas.  There are reasons that certain areas are off-limits - it's because they would harm this amazingly beautiful world we live in!
#2: Under this header, Romney's website also contains a bullet point that he would "prevent overregulation of shale gas development and extraction."  What the what?  Actually, shale gas development is very LIGHTLY regulated right now.  I'm not a huge fan of "fracking" - which is basically pumping water with chemicals into the ground in order to get gas.  I think if you're doing this, you should be subject to some regulations.  This is an activity that can pollute groundwater - THAT IS THE STUFF YOU DRINK, PEOPLE!  So, I am not a fan of this policy either.

Research and Development
This prong of Romney's plans has some innocuous sounding bullet points, and a subtle jab at Obama for seeking to fund specific energy alternatives like wind and solar.  I'm happy to see, however, that Romney does believe that government can be a helpful force in energy policy, so I'll give him a few points for that.  BUT, I really do believe that if we're going to beat China (which is heavily investing in alternative energy sources) then, we will need government investment in making energy alternatives like wind and solar more cost effective.

Bottom Line: Romney has some good ideas in this area, but when I read here (on Fox News, no less!) that Romney opposes stricter emission standards for cars, I realized once again that I will be voting for President Obama in November.  I'll save the greenhouse debate for another day, but I'll state here that I believe in man made global warming, and I believe it will destroy the delicate balance of earth if we let it continue.  If you're curious, you can read President Obama's policy on energy AND the environment here.

Just for fun, here's a beautiful hymn about the earth (you deserve it if you've read this far).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Into the Belly of the Beast

It’s the time of year when tax accountants bear only a passing resemblance to sane people.  They have minor breakdowns over lack of paper clips, and major psychiatric episodes ensue if the tax software crashes.  But, tomorrow is the tax deadline, so Wednesday will be a day of delight!

Even though the last thing I want to do right now is think about taxes, I have gone into the belly of the beast, and read Governor Mitt Romney’s tax plan.  You can read the plan for yourself here.  I’m going to split this post into two parts, one part about Romney’s plans for individual taxes, and another about his plans for corporate taxes.  This first post deals with several provisions Romney has proposed for individuals.  I should state the obvious here, and note that these are my personal opinions and not those of the firm I work for.

#1: Romney proposes to cut individual tax rates by 20% across the board.  This would return the top tax rate to 28%, which was the top rate in 1986.  This is a clear contrast with President Obama, who proposes to repeal the Bush tax cuts for top earners and return the top tax rate to 39.6%, which is what the tax rate was under Clinton.  The tax policy center estimates that the top 0.1% of earners would pay more than $1 million more under Obama’s plan versus Romney’s.

Ok, let’s make clear that I have no problem with tax cuts per se.  I just think that you have to be honest about how you’re going to pay for them – there is no free lunch (Likewise, raising taxes is not a panacea that solves our problems).  I think the biggest problem I have with this proposition of Romney’s plan is that he says that’s pro-growth.  This is linked to the failed supposition that all you have to do is lower taxes and jobs will magically be created.  It didn’t work for President Bush in 2001.  Romney’s plan also promises to “limit deductions, exemptions, and credits” for upper income earners.  Which ones?  The very popular mortgage deduction?  The charitable contributions deduction?  The exemptions for dependents?  (those  will be all popular with house-owning, tithe-paying, large Mormon families!)  I’ve blogged before about how it is very hard to take away so-called “tax expenditures” – tax breaks that are popular but cost the government a lot.  My fear is that Romney will cut taxes without being able to have corresponding cuts to these tax breaks.  The lack of specificity is troubling, to say the least.

#2: Romney proposes to cut capital gains taxes on Americans making less than $200,000 per year and keep the rates at 15% for everyone else.  My problem with this is simple: the financial crisis.  This rewards people who make risky financial decisions that may destabilize the whole system.  It values one type of work (financial intrigue) over the steel worker.  In other words, a Morgan Stanley investment banker would pay a lower tax rate than I do on my salary.  I don’t think that’s right.

#3: Abolish the “death tax.”  This is another example of the Republican penchant for ridiculous names.  This tax hits only those estates worth more than $5 million.  The tax also provides a step up in basis, which means that when you sell those assets you inherit you don’t pay tax again.  It’s a question of taxing the gain now or later, so I guess this one is just a matter of policy.  I am okay with the death tax.

#4: Abolish the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for individuals.  This point I actually agree with.  The AMT is a complex tax on top of a tax, and it’s not indexed for inflation so it hits more Americans every year.    Given the rest of Romney’s individual tax plan, I feel like it’s not specific enough, or in line with my views on tax policy. I feel like it is doing nothing to help with the growing income inequality gap.  You can read some more in-depth analysis of Romney's and Obama's plans here and here.

Don’t forget, your taxes are due tomorrow!  A little tax humor: 

demotivational poster TAX FORMS

Friday, April 13, 2012

Take a Deep Breath

My facebook feed has both liberals and conservatives, so it's always funny when one side or the other makes a ridiculous remark.  Those disagreeing with the political views of the person who made the remark instantly ascribe the most vicious and sinister motives to all members of the speaker's political party or persuasion.  This has been true this week, as the comments of Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen have been under fire for saying that "Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life."*

But for me, this remark, and the accompanying charges that Democrats hate stay-at-home moms, are so utterly ridiculous.  The difference is that this is ONE remark, which was widely condemned - by Michelle Obama, David Axelrod, and many others, while the Republicans have engaged in some actual policies that harm women.  The real question is, which party is supporting policies that matter to women and really make a difference in their lives for the better?  Hmmm....let's see.

Pay Equity
Republicans opposed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay act, which gives women more time to sue employers who discriminate against them by paying them less.  The Democratic congress passed it and Barack Obama signed it into law in 2009.  Republicans in Wisconsin recently repealed legislation that allowed punitive damages in cases of gender discrimination.  I'm sorry, but unless we make it painful for employers to pay women less, they're going to keep doing it.  Right now women make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes.  This is wrong, and I'm with the Democrats - we need to stop it.

My Body
Recent attempts by many Republican legislatures have led to proposed laws requiring women to have ultrasounds before having an abortion.  In some cases, this would require a transvaginal probe inserted into a women's body.  This, from a party allegedly based on personal liberty.  No thank you, I'm old enough to make my own medical decisions.

I don't have the time to blog about all the issues I see regarding women.  But until the Republicans start supporting paid family leave, reduced work requirements for poor moms on welfare, or government policies helping women who work with childcare, I think it's disingenuous at best to suggest that one remark by a Democratic strategist constitutes a war on women.  So, everyone just take a deep breath - Democrats like myself do NOT hate stay-at-home moms or think that they're freeloaders.  I'm grateful my own mom made the choice to stay home with us crazy kids and raise us right.  But the point is, it was her choice - we need to support women who make a different choice too.  Hooray for moms!  They're awesome!

*For the record, I think Rosen was quoted out of context - she was saying that Ann Romney doesn't understand the concerns of those women who have to work a paid job while raising kids.  But I know I'm not going to win that battle, because any remark can be taken out of context and blown out of proportion.  So we'll just deal with it on it's face.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Molly Mormon Monday

Monday is upon us, time to live up to my promise!

True confessions of a Molly Mormon Democrat: I have trouble retaining General Conference.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching it, but I have trouble remembering any of it afterwards.  Once the talks are posted online, I do much better reading them. 

When I was little, I remember drawing each speaker (I think this was my mom’s way of forcing me at least to pay a little bit of attention).  Unfortunately, I have zero artistic talent, so I’m pretty sure most of my drawings looked exactly the same.  Perhaps the only thing different was glasses or the amount of hair on the speaker.

In case you missed the Church’s general conference last week, I decided to create a visual representation of the talks in the form of a word cloud.  Word clouds are an image of text – bigger words mean that these words appear more often in the text.  Sometimes word clouds help you to see themes in a speech, book, or article.

I cut and pasted all of the General Conference talks into one big document and fed that into the “wordle” website.  So, below is my word cloud – what sticks out to you? 

Wordle: General Conference April 2012

I like the little “desire good” at the bottom right-hand corner.  It’s complete coincidence that the words ended up next to each other, but it’s usually the basic message of conference: desire good!  I also like that “Love” is at the center – it should be central to who we are, because I think it’s a powerful principle.  What themes did you sense in General Conference?

If, for some reason, the wordle shows up very small, the link is here to view it full size.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Just Another Manic Molly Monday

Mondays are not my favorite day.  I mean, c'mon - it's the start of the work week!  But I've decided to do something to make them better, and commit to doing a blog post every Monday.  This doesn't necessarily mean that it will be a long one, but at least it will be consistent.  I will also try to include a picture or video to make my blog more visually interesting (I did not include a picture in my blog post on Saturday, because I did not want to know what would come up on a google image search about sex education!).

So, to begin: Jeopardy.  Specifically, the nerd-tastic show that features this guy:

I just found out that my co-worker got tickets to a local taping of Jeopardy and she's letting me go with her!!!  I have been a fan of this show for a looooong time.  This is mostly thanks to my maternal grandparents, who ALWAYS watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.  When they stayed with us, or we stayed with them, every night, without fail, would bring the delights of "spin that wheel"!, daily doubles, buying vowels, corny facts about the contestants, and double Jeopardy.  

In high school, I joined the Quiz Bowl team (true, I was second string).  While I dreamed of appearing on "College Jeopardy" that never quite worked out.  I did try out a couple of years ago for real Jeopardy, but never got called up.  I would probably get overly excited and lose big time, so I guess the show's producers saved me personal embarrassment!

For some reason I love Jeopardy much more than Wheel of Fortune.  Jeopardy is much harder, so maybe that's why it's my favorite.  I think the reason that I enjoy it is that I don't know everything on the show.  It's good "brain floss" to remember quirky facts or do fun word puzzles.  I'll end with a scene from one of my favorite movies involving Jeopardy: